VOLUME 33, NUMBER 23 THURSDAY, April 4, 2002
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Relationship workshops set
Fincham says supportive relationship can ease life's journey

By PATRICIA DONOVAN
Contributing Editor

A supportive relationship with a spouse or partner often is a source of comfort and strength, a buffer against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. By helping both partners manage stress from a variety of sources, it not only can lengthen life, but make it more pleasant.

While good rapport with intimates can ease life's burdens, research shows that close relationships fraught with conflict increase blood pressure, produce cardiovascular strain and alter the function of the immune system, according to Frank Fincham, professor of social and clinical psychology.

To help couples improve their communication and problem-solving skills, the Psychological Services Center in Park Hall on the North Campus is offering a three-hour relationship workshop in April. The workshop will be held from 6:30-9:30 p.m. on Wednesday and repeated from 9 a.m. to noon on April 13 and from 6:30-9:30 p.m. on April 18.

The workshops will help couples learn the sources and consequences of relationship stress and how they can enhance their partnerships through the use of better methods of communication—careful listening, discussion instead of argument, conflict-resolution techniques and compromise.

The center provides service to the community, as well as to UB students, faculty members and staff. Fees are based on a sliding-fee scale and differ depending on family size and income. For information about the workshops, call the Psychological Services Center at 645-3697.

Fincham, cited by his peers as one of the most influential researchers in clinical psychology, says it's not surprising that chronic relationship strain is associated with poor mental and physical health.

"Given the potential an intimate relationship has to help or harm a person's life and health," he says, "it's very important to attend to our relationships, to keep them working as smoothly as possible so that when problems arise, as they always will, we get through them with as little anxiety, anger and physical stress as possible.

"Do we wait for our car to break down before we get it serviced?" he asks. "Of course not. When it comes to our relationships, though, we tend to wait for trouble before we look for help. In fact, more people seek professional help for relationship problems than anything else.

"It doesn't have to be that way," Fincham says. "Relationship success is not due to romantic love or luck, but commitment and hard work," he notes. Yet even with the best of intentions, approximately 45 percent of new marriages will end in divorce.

"The number one relationship problem according to couples and counselors is communication," Fincham says, "but with some help, most couples can improve communication and keep serious problems at bay."

At the very least, Fincham suggests that if a couple is having problems, they should get help early, before the situation deteriorates to the point at which resentment and hostility rule the roost. He points out that there are early warning signs that the relationship might be headed for trouble.

"Everyone argues, for instance," he says, "but if arguments become more frequent or more heated than usual or if they don't resolve the issue at hand, it's likely that communication has broken down, perhaps because the couple's skills in that area aren't what they could be.

"If partners are having difficulty talking with one another, if one or both feel negative about the relationship much of the time or worry about the effect it's having on their lives or those of their children," he says, "then it's important to do something about it. If not, stress will continue to build and produce problems of its own—sometimes problems more serious than those produced by the original disagreement.

"But why wait until it gets to that point?" he asks. "It's quite rational to get a ‘relationship service' while things are going well. That way, when problems arise, the couple already will have in hand useful ways to talk about their conflict and effective means to resolve it."

A former Rhodes Scholar, Fincham has received many awards for his research, including the President's Award from the British Psychological Society for "distinguished contributions to psychological knowledge" and the Berscheid-Hatfield Award from the International Network on Personal Relationships for "sustained, substantial and distinguished contributions to the field of personal relationships."

Fincham's research programs are in complementary areas. The first focuses on understanding marriage/partnership, particularly the cognitive processes involved in conflict. The second examines the association between inter-parental conflict/divorce and child adjustment.